Nov. 22-27, 1918

Nov. 22 

Sewed, went up town, Harriet and I fooled around a long time, crocheted.

Nov. 23

Cleaned up the house, went over town, made a napkin holder, finished Teddy, sewed baskets and a scarf and crocheted on a towel. went to bed at 10:30.

Nov. 24

Got up at 8. Took a bath, read, had dinner, went down to Harriet’s, had dinner again, went walking, Edgar, Harriet and I went down to the store and played Universal and ate candy. had a dandy supper at Bechtols, read poems and sang. came home about 6:30, made ice cream, played and sang, went to bed at 12.

Nov. 25

School started again after six weeks vacation! Same old place only more dead than ever, washed after school, crocheted, went to bed at 9.

Nov. 26

Washed dishes and separator, Prof. watched Harriet and I all day. Went uptown. Got a letter from Corporal Lake A. Barber of Brookings one of Azel’s room mates, some swell kid- maybe. Tried to get “algebra”, crocheted.

Nov. 27

Went over town after a sack of flour, crocheted, fooled around up town after school, cleaned up, went up town, after the mail. Got our Mont. Order. Gerald came home with us. Edgar came and I read a story to the bunch and then won in a game of Flinch. Went to be about 12.

I love how this installment begins. Harriet and Clara went to town and “fooled around for a long time.” It reminds me of my own senior year of high school, meeting up in Clayton with my friends, and fooling around for a long time. Just kids being kids, whether in 1918 or 1980 or 2020.

Edgar, Harriet, and Clara hang out together a lot. The played Universal, but I have no idea what that is. Maybe someone can help with that. Then they head to the Bechtols, a family that was also mentioned in the previous installment when Clara and her boyfriend Edgar and their friend Harriet visited them for ice cream, ice cream that she tells us was “awful good.”

Charles is on the left and William is on the right

The story of the Bechtol family is worthy of taking a moment here. And I hope you can keep track of it all – there is a lot!

Mr. William Bechtol (who was 48 years old in 1918) got divorced in Indiana and moved to Cresbard, South Dakota, in 1914 to join his brother Charles (just a year younger than William) who had already moved there from Indiana after his own divorce in 1912. I’ll get back to Charles later.

It’s impossible to say what caused William’s divorce, but he didn’t leave Indiana alone. His oldest son Audrey and Audrey’s wife moved with him to SD. His other three daughters, who ranged in age from 14 to 20 years old, stayed behind. The 20-year-old was married and already had three children of her own in 1914. The middle daughter was also married. She actually got married at age 15 in 1912 and had a daughter the next year, and then something must have happened. Because she remarried in 1914. Her first husband was still alive, so they must have gotten divorced. She never had children with her second husband and died at a very young age – 26. The best I can tell, a third daughter was 16 when her father moved to South Dakota, and she stayed in Indiana with her mother. But I cannot really find information on her, so I am not sure if that is accurate.

It didn’t take long for William to move on once he arrived in South Dakota. Two years later, in 1916, he married Jennie Ackerman, who also must have been divorced because she remarried William a year before her husband, with whom she shared two children, died in 1917. Her older son was 24 at the time, married, and already with four children of his own, one of whom unfortunately died at only one-day old. As an aside, his young wife died in two years later in 1918 – possibly influenza? Jennie’s younger son was only 20, and he lived with the newlyweds, who were now both in their later 40s.

Sadly, William’s son Audrey tragically died in 1918, when he was 29 years old, but it is unclear if he died from influenza although that wouldn’t be out of the question to assume. He left a wife but didn’t have any children when he passed.

That’s a lot of broken families and death in William Bechtol’s life in only a few years.

Charles Bechtel’s children: back row l to r: the twins

But it is nothing compared to his brother Charles Bechtol.

Charles left Indiana and moved to Minnesota, for unknown reasons, and there he married Bertha Sailor on May 15, 1897. Over the next twelve years, Bertha gave birth to seven children.

It was also there that she fell in love with a married man with four children of his own: Edwin Dolliver. At some point in 1912, the Bertha and Edwin left their spouses and escaped to Kansas. Edwin abandoned all of his children and changed his name to John Roberts, and Bertha adopted his last name while abandoning four of her seven children. The other three took the trip to Kansas, and Bertha changed their last names to Roberts.

Here’s George’s youngest, Clarence.

Apparently descendants spent years piecing together the story of what happened here.

Edwin’s wife never remarried and continued to claimed herself as “married” in future census reports. She did eventually switch her status to “widow” even though it was years before Edwin died.

Bertha brought her fourth, sixth, and seventh children, whose ages were 9, 4, and 1, respectively. It isn’t clear why she took these three, although seems obvious that she would at least take the two youngest. 

Her husband, Charles, it is said, was completely devastated. The same year she left, 1912, he left for Cresbard with the four remaining children, ranging in age from 6 to 13. I don’t know how he decided on Cresbard or on South Dakota. But to compound the tragedy, Charles fell victim to the Spanish flu and died in 1919, leaving the children, now 13-20, who had already been abandoned by their mother.

So what happened to his kids?

The two children in the middle, twin boys who were 19 when their father died, were boarders until they each married within the next year and a half. The two daughters, the youngest and the oldest of the four, boarded with an older couple and a young man working as a farm hand. The youngest married when she turned 18 five years later.


The oldest, Melva, who was now 20, started working as a servant for a local family and ended up marrying the young man who was boarding at the same place as her and her young sister. And because it appears nothing can be easy in these small towns of South Dakota, while she married in 1920, gave birth to a baby girl in 1921, the baby died very soon after. She did get pregnant again, only to give birth to a boy on March 22, 1922, who died two days later. And then Melva died two days after that, leaving her husband a widower and childless less than two and a half years after getting married. She was 24 years old.

I conducted quite a bit of research on my family a few years ago. One thing that really jumped out at me then and that is jumping out at me now as I research the people from this 1918 journal is just how many people have gotten divorced. I was always under the impression that people never got divorced until fairly recently. That women were trapped in loveless and sometimes abusive marriages. But my research seems to show that this is not entirely accurate.

In fact, according to “Unplighted Troths: Causes for Divorce in a Frontier Town Toward The End of the Nineteenth Century,

Contradicting the stereotypical conception of ironclad marriages and compliant, even beleaguered, Victorian wives, divorce rates [in the United States] rose rapidly in the last half of the nineteenth century 

My sister and I are both divorced, yet our parents remained married until they passed away. We wondered where we went wrong, how their only two children could both end up divorced. But after I did quite a bit of research on our family, in an attempt to discover who my mother’s dad was (a story for another day!), turns out, my sister and I are not the exception. Our parents seem to be closer to the exception by staying married. 

My guess would be that 100 years ago, not all of these marriages were formalized, nor were all divorces. It appears things were a little more flexible than that. Of course, there are also plenty of second marriages as a result of either the husband or wife dying. And although I had always assumed it was the women who died, thanks to the dangers of childbirth, it turns out, plenty of men died as well.

George Keith Horen – around 12 years old

As for the ice cream, according to my dad’s oldest brother George Keith (the family called him Keith), who was born a year after this diary and grew up on this farm in Cresbard, remembers homemade ice cream, “which we had, it seems to me, quite often.”

Usually at least one of the hired men or the hired girls, they wanted to have ice cream for the end of the meal. One of the hired men would have to get out of the field early, and get the ice and put it in the freezer and then turn the ice cream freezer while the hired boy sat on top of it. I remember Lester Arnes, or whatever his name was, married the hired girl, had to as a matter of fact. And that day he was the source of some envy because he was not only making it with the hired girl, but he was getting out of the field an hour early to freeze the ice cream for lunch. 

The big treat in the ice cream making was licking the dasher. So when the ice cream was declared done, we’d throw the dasher, which was a paddle wheel sort of thing, out of the can that held the ice cream. And that ice cream had to be eaten very quickly before it melted. And so when the dasher came off, the people who did the work of course got the first good bites but after that, we must have been like a bunch of puppies around the food dish trying to get the ice cream off the paddle.”

Ad for ice cream freezers

Clara washes the dishes and the separator, and the separator is most likely a milk separator, since the farm had dairy cows and Clara discusses in an earlier week that she takes milk to town. The separator “enabled farmers to separate their own milk and sell the cream to dairy factories, rather than taking milk to a skimming station to be separated.” 

Milk Separator

The milk is poured into the top of the separator. Then turning the handle creates a centrifuge that separates the milk from the cream so that each comes out a different spout.

On November 26th, school starts up again. She calls the six-week break a vacation, but it appears this shut down may have been connected to the influenza. It was typical for rural schools to take time off during harvesting, but this time period is a bit late for harvesting, which is typically in the fall.

And the next line is one of the most heartbreaking so far in this journal: “Same old place only more dead than ever.” Just a simply stated truth. 

But I get her troubles. The professor watcher her and her friend all day. Haven’t we all had that experience? And Clara spends that day trying to “get algebra.” Another experience that reaches across the decades.

I have a lot to say about school in 1918, but I am going to save that for the next installment.

In the meantime, Clara receivds a letter from Corporal Lake A. Barber, Azel’s roommate. As I have mentioned before, I believe Azel is away at college, maybe South Dakota State University in Brookings, where Clara says Lake is from. I am unclear about the title “Corporal” as I cannot find anything about Lake serving in the military. And Clara seems unsure about him – “some swell kid, maybe” she writes. Turns out, he also ends up divorced. He marries Irma Blades in 1920, has a son, and promptly is divorced by 1926 because he moves to Texas and marries Iva Kyser in December 1926. They have two children.

1913 version of Flinch

The next day, Clara receives another Montgomery Ward order, which I discussed in detail in an earlier installation. And she wins at a game of Flinch, a card game invented in 1901 and that I remember well playing as a kid.

Other versions of Flinch over the years. I used to own the blue box.

It’s funny how the littlest of things, such as a simple card game, can leap across the decades to connect us to people we can’t imagine we would have anything in common with.

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